My View: Expert Discusses the Elimination of Parking Minimums

Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

One of the bigger points of contention with the new housing proposals in downtown Davis is the elimination of parking minimums by the city—following state law.  A critical point here is that Davis is not alone in grappling with this issue and Davis is again… following state law in this regard.

There was a good discussion on parking demand hosted by the Eno Center for Transportation.

“The more parking you provide, the more likely people will be to own a car,” said Henry Grabar, staff writer for Slate Magazine and author of Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World, as reported by Smart Cities Dive this week.

In fact, Graber explained that the demand for parking raises the costs and reduces the availability of housing.  This is a critical problem because, as I explained in an earlier column, we are transferring the costs of parking onto the people who can least afford to pay it.

But there is another point as well—the downward costs of parking are enormous, especially as we grapple with climate change.

We have grown accustomed to our lifestyle and have spent the last forty years or so in climate denial—but in a week where the hottest planetary temperatures in the last 100,000 years occurred—we are at the point where that can no longer be ignored.

But, climate change aside, during a time of housing crises we need to rethink how we do city planning.

“We have become so accustomed to seeing the streets as perpetually lined with car storage—as if that had always been the way that they were—it can be a little hard to even comprehend what happens when you begin to design streets in a different way,” Grabar said as quoted by Smart Cities Dive.

As our discussions in earlier weeks suggest, “car owners still often expect parking to be readily available.”

Indeed, businesses and community members rebelled at the notion of paid parking.  But the community failed to understand that there is no such thing as free parking—someone pays for it.  Just not the person actually using the space.

“They want parking to be free. They want it to be convenient, which is to say directly in front of their destination, and they want it to be immediately available at the moment they arrive,” Grabar said.

It is not only costly, it is wasteful.

Smart Cities reported, “Many cities have minimum parking requirements that set the number of parking spots for residential and office buildings as well as shopping centers and other venues. Nearly seven parking spots exist for every car in the U.S., according to some estimates.”

But the biggest concern I have is the impact on housing.

I argued that mandated parking increases the costs of housing on the average renter.  But Grabar also pointed out that “parking mandates impact the housing supply by reducing the land available to build on.

“What you lose is what is now commonly referred to as missing middle housing, which is a big reason why the country finds itself short four million homes,” he said.

With parking minimums, Grabar explained, “You have to include all this parking, especially in an infill environment where the amount of land is limited.”

In my column, I cited the 2021 study by Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, who recommended several reforms.

Smart Cities added that “more than 1,400 cities have implemented parking reforms. San Jose, California, eliminated parking minimums last year, and Austin, Texas, plans to do so this year. “

Key point: “People will adapt.”

Grabar pointed out, “You get rid of parking, people decide to make trips other ways, and then you emerge with an environment that’s more pedestrian-friendly, simply because there are so many more people walking and biking.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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13 Comments

  1. Walter Shwe

    I wonder if this so-called expert owns a vehicle and possesses a private parking space, garage or carport and a driveway where he lives. I hope that answers to all of the these questions is an emphatic no. Otherwise he is a blatant hypocrite. Fortunately most people can see straight through hypocrisy if they care to look. Unfortunately some think they can get away with hypocrisy and escape getting called out for it.

    As for myself, I would not have chosen where I currently live if it didn’t have a carport or a garage. I know my sister’s family wouldn’t have purchased their current or past Davis homes if each one didn’t have private parking space and driveway.

    Written by Walter ‘Non-Hypocritical’ Shwe

    1. Keith Olsen

      I can’t believe I’m saying this but I actually agree with Walter here.

      There are many who advocate for others to not own vehicles or parking spaces while they themselves own a car or several cars along with parking spaces.

      Some of them comment on here.

  2. Ron Oertel

    The more parking you provide, the more likely people will be to own a car,” said Henry Grabar, staff writer for Slate Magazine and author of Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World, as reported by Smart Cities Dive this week.

    So according to this author, cars can be “eliminated” if developers aren’t required to mitigate the impacts they create. Interesting theory, but doesn’t work that way in the real world.

    In the city in which I grew up (and spent a substantial portion of my adult life), I never had an onsite parking spot – but always had a car.

    So you know what I did?  I generally parked in front of someone else’s home, as the spot in front of my home was usually already-taken.

    Keep in mind that the city in which I grew up was already far-more dense, and far-less isolated than a place like Davis.  Anyone living in Davis is ultimately dependent upon a car – either theirs, a friend or family member’s car, a Zip car, etc.  The reason being that what “lives in Davis, doesn’t stay in Davis”.

    In fact, Graber explained that the demand for parking raises the costs and reduces the availability of housing.

    And by eliminating onsite parking (and increasing housing), it causes even more people to move into a neighborhood, bringing more cars. Brilliant!

    This is a critical problem because, as I explained in an earlier column, we are transferring the costs of parking onto the people who can least afford to pay it.

    Oh my god – who cares?  You want to subsidize cars for “poor people”?  Does the climate know about that?

    And (other than those moving into Affordable housing), how many “poor people” are moving to Davis in the first place?

    “What you lose is what is now commonly referred to as missing middle housing, which is a big reason why the country finds itself short four million homes,” he said.

    Total and complete myth – both the “shortage” and the claim that onsite parking is “causing” what doesn’t exist in the first place.

    Let me ask you – does the “middle” rely upon cars?

    1. Ron Oertel

      missing middle

      In Davis’ case, the elimination of parking minimums ensures that the so-called “missing middle” is that much more-likely to seek housing in a surrounding community – where parking is always provided.

      And the new housing (e.g., the massive structures planned for downtown, without parking) will be student housing, as usual.

    2. Ron Oertel

      So you know what I did?  I generally parked in front of someone else’s home, as the spot in front of my home was usually already-taken.

      Oh, and don’t try to claim that “permit-parking” had much impact on that.  The reason being that I parked overnight (when there was no hourly restriction), and moved the vehicle (by 10:00 a.m.?) the next morning.  (Often times, I needed the vehicle during the daytime, regardless.)

      There was no permit parking directly in front of my home, for a period of time.  But there was in the neighborhood at large, where I parked.

      Besides which, “permit parking” is of no use, if it “limits” parking to residents on a street which has insufficient onsite parking in the first place.

      So unless residents of new developments are specifically “excluded” from the ability to get a parking permit in the neighborhood in which they’re located, those new residents will just get permits themselves – and park throughout that neighborhood. (Or, will park overnight and move their cars the next morning – as I did.)

      Don’t get me wrong, though – it would probably be even WORSE downtown if these new student housing developments included massive amounts of parking. The actual problem is that massive housing developments don’t belong downtown.

  3. Jim Frame

    I think a severe reduction in parking associated with new construction is a sensible step, but it will cause a lot of disruption as people adapt to the situation.  Those of us who grew up with a car — and a place to park it — always available will initially be discomfited by the change.

    But seriously reducing parking without any mitigating steps would be a mistake.  If you’re going to force people out of cars, you need to provide alternatives.  Walking and biking aren’t enough; there are people who can’t do either, and seasonal weather conditions that discourage those who can.  Some form of frequent and reliable public transportation has to be made available as part of the transition.  Unitrans and YoloBus as currently constituted don’t meet those criteria.

     

  4. Keith Olsen

    but in a week where the hottest planetary temperatures in the last 100,000 years occurred—we are at the point where that can no longer be ignored.

    Really, proof please.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Though NCEP CFSR only begins in 1979, other data sets let us look further back and conclude that this day was warmer than any point since instrumental measurements began, and probably for a long time before that as well.

        Sounds real scientific.

        1. David Greenwald

          How do you factor in uncertainty? After all, we have only had the precise mechanism to measure global temperatures in the about the last half century. And yet, we know the overall effects of global warming and cooling in terms of ice/ water levels which we can measure over long periods of time. While you could probably cite a confidence interval for global temperatures, probably is a safe term to use.

  5. Tim Keller

    While I agree with the abolition of parking minimums AND the establishment of parking maximums, this is still NOT a change that you can spring on people without communicating what is going on.

    We took two generations to develop ourselves into car dependency, it is VERY hard to un-do, both in terms of the hardscape we have created which are auto-centric as well as our culture.   It will likely take another generation if not more to recover from it.

    A big part of that NEEDS to be communication from leadership because these changes are being made with the expectation that people will adjust to them… ( and they will… but it really helps if you give them a heads-up)

    For example, it should be communicated by the city that “we are creating a housing community downtown intended for locals who can live in our city car-free.  We are providing zip-car spots for occasional trips out of town, and enhancing transit options for if they need to go elsewhere in town out of biking range”  … just an example… but then they also need to provide those services as well.

    As for the charges of hypocrisy… I would slow your roll there a bit Walter…  We live in a world that is currently designed FOR the car.   Most people don’t have a choice but to own a car, and that is really a huge part of the problem.   Here in Davis, if you live downtown you can get away without owning a car, and the handful of people who live downtown can enjoy that lifestyle, but if you a worker priced out of davis, then the additional expense of commuting here to your job is an insult added to your economic injury.

    Similarly, if you live in the vast majority of Davis which is single family housing, then a car is pretty much essential.  I live in Mace Ranch and there is nothing “walkable” from my home.  In the heat at the time im writing this, “bikeable” anywhere is a stretch too.

    Now, because i work in town relatively close-by I was able to sell my family’s second care a couple of years ago, and I can get to work on a onewheel… but we still have that one car, and our city is build in such a way, and our transit is so under-developed that having at least one car per family is pretty much essential.    We really need to change that, and it isn’t “hypocrisy” to say so.

  6. Ron Oertel

    Anyone who believes that there’s going to be a massive investment in new public transit is living in a fantasy.  (Probably the same folks who think they’re going to stop I-80 from expanding.)

    I don’t know why some folks have such mistaken beliefs, since it’s not like this stuff isn’t being reported. Do they get all their news from their own belief system, or perhaps just the Vanguard?

    Existing public transit is going bankrupt.  Google it – here’s the first article that popped up for me:

    The public transport system in the US state of California is facing a crisis as ridership is down, services are short of funds, and the state government is running a deficit. The loss of ridership because of the Covid-19 pandemic has not been refilled. The train service (they’re apparently referring to BART) has warned that if the state government does not step in, it could be forced to stop running after 9 pm on weekends and limiting regular service to just one train per hour.

    https://www.outlookindia.com/international/california-s-public-transport-crisis-photos-293339?photo-2

    And here’s another:

    Transit agencies across California are grappling with a “fiscal cliff” — a decline in revenue and the end of federal funding that has been a lifeline for the last three years. Without the state stepping in, they say they may have to cut service or increase fares.

    Statewide, monthly ridership dropped from 100 million in February 2019 to about 20 million in June 2020. As of June 2022, the numbers rebounded to about 60 million, but varied by region and transportation mode.

    https://calmatters.org/politics/capitol/2023/04/public-transit-california/

    There’s probably literally HUNDREDS of these type of articles, including one in which Wiener was begging (demanding that?) Newsom to not cut public transit. (Don’t know what became of that, but I always “enjoy” seeing those two diverge.)

    Turns out that the entire premise of forcing housing near public transit is fatally-flawed.  When do you suppose the state will admit its mistake?  (I strongly suspect “never”.)  The only thing left is for the state to sue every city in the state, I guess. Whack ’em hard, Bonta! That’ll teach ’em.

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